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What is an Environmental Search?

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Gareth Brooks

7th May 2021 (Last updated on 16th Feb 2024) 6 minute read

An environmental search is a conveyancing search that is recommended when buying a house and may reveal important information about the past use of the land the property is built on, potentially influencing your decision to go ahead with the purchase.

Some homes in the UK were built on land that was once a base for factories and other industrial purposes, resulting in contaminated land. It’s important to have an environmental search to reveal if any toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead and arsenic are present in the ground as this can cause a serious health hazard to you and future occupiers of the property if discovered.

Compare My Move work with property experts to bring you the latest research and information for when you’re buying or selling property. In this article, we reveal everything you need to know about the environmental search, from how much it costs to what you can expect to discover from it.

  1. How Do I Get an Environmental Search?
  2. What Does an Environmental Search Cover?
  3. How Much Does It Cost?
  4. How Long Does It Take?
  5. Why is it Important to get an Environmental Search?
  6. What to Do With the Results?
  7. What Does a Failed Environmental Search Mean?

How Do I Get an Environmental Search?

Your conveyancing solicitor will order the search from an environmental agency so they can carry out the search and provide the results.

The search will be carried out at the beginning of the conveyancing process as it could take a while to be returned. The search is carried out before exchanging contracts so you can learn of any damaging information that could affect your decision to go ahead with the property purchase.

The environmental search will be bought via a third party provider such as Groundsure, the leading UK environmental search authority, as they have access to detailed information about the previous land uses within the vicinity of a property.

All the information revealed in the search will be accurate as it’s carried out by an impartial company.

What Does an Environmental Search Cover?

The search will reveal important environmental risks surrounding the property you plan to buy, giving a result of either “passed” or “failed”. The companies who provide the searches have access to large databases of environmental information and learn of important land use information from old Ordnance Survey maps available.

The environmental search report will cover any risk of:

  • Contaminated land such as waste or landfill site
  • Ground stability
  • Floods
  • Landslips
  • Energy and infrastructure such as solar or wind farms
  • Radon gas

Other issues that will be revealed in an environmental search will confirm if there are any overhead power lines or mobile phone masts within 250 metres of the property. It’s important to note that none of the above will be highlighted if you just get a Local Authority Search, so ensuring your conveyancer orders all three searches in the pack is vital.

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How Much Does It Cost?

A standard environmental search will cost around £50, but you can also have a more in-depth search from Groundsure called Environmental, Flood and Planning Search which is about double the price.

The standard search is usually bought as part of the conveyancing search pack, which includes the Local Authority and the Water and Drainage search to give you detailed local and environmental knowledge of the area. The search pack is commonly known as a conveyancing disbursement.

The cost of your environmental search will be included in the search pack which is usually around £250-£300 and will be part of your total conveyancing costs. Your conveyancer will request a £250-£300 deposit once you’ve instructed them to begin the process, which will be used towards ordering the searches.

How Long Does It Take?

An environmental search typically takes two to three weeks to complete, but this can vary depending on your solicitor and the company they use. The time the search takes to be fully completed will also depend on what your solicitor finds in the results, as negative findings could result in further searches ordered.

Why is it Important to get an Environmental Search?

As well as the health hazards of buying a house on contaminated land, there are many important reasons to get an environmental search when buying a house.

1. Learn of important environmental risks surrounding property

The main reason for getting an environmental search is to be aware of environmental risks surrounding your property. Not only could these risks affect yours and your families health, but it can also damage your property and be an on-going issue for you as a homeowner.

2. Learn how it affects the value of the property

Another reason for getting an environmental search is to learn of any damaging information before you are legally bound to buy the property. Buying a house on contaminated land or near any flood risks can seriously affect the value of your property, making it difficult to sell in the future.

3. Avoid having to pay for the clear-up

If it turns out the land is contaminated and the company/person who is responsible cannot be found, then it will fall on the home/landowner to pay to clean up the land. This can end up being an expensive process, one that can be avoided if you learn about the land before buying the house.

4. Mortgage lender will require it

Your mortgage lender will often require you to get an environmental search to prove the property isn’t going to devalue. This often happens before they finalise the mortgage offer so they can be reassured the property won’t lose value. To learn more, read what to do if surveyor devalues house.

5. If current or previous industry is known in the area

It’s even more important to get an environmental search if you’re buying a property in an area where industry is known to have existed previously. This can be easily found online and your solicitor should have knowledge of the local area to advise you straight up if you need more specific searches.

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What to Do With the Results?

If your environmental search returns worrying results there are a few options available to you. Your conveyancing solicitor will be there to advise you on your next actions as they will have the knowledge and experience of a range of situations.

1. Order further searches

If your conveyancer flags anything worrying in the results of the environmental search, they will suggest ordering further searches such as a Flood Risk search, a Coal & Tin Mining search or a Subsidence Report. This will offer more insight into a specific risk highlighted in the environmental search.

2. Negotiate offer

Depending on what the search reveals, you can use the information to re-negotiate your offer on the property. For example, if the search flags any health hazards such as toxic chemicals in the area, this would not only affect your health but also the value of the property. If this doesn’t change your decision to live there, then you have grounds to negotiate your offer for these reasons.

3. Pull out of the purchase

As you will have the results of the search prior to exchanging contracts, this means you can still pull out of the purchase as it isn’t legally binding yet. If the results are damaging, your conveyancing solicitor will offer their expert legal and professional opinion on what to do going forward.

What Does a Failed Environmental Search Mean?

If your environmental search returns a failed result, it will mean that the property you plan to buy was built on or near land that is contaminated or causes an environmental threat.

Sometimes a fail means the search company can't be sure why the land was contaminated or what with, this is something your solicitor can try and reverse the result to ensure a pass. Your conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise you on what to do next and you might need further specific property searches.

Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.

Gareth Brooks

Reviewed by Gareth Brooks

Solicitor and Partner, RMNJ Solicitors

With 19 years of experience in the residential conveyancing industry, Gareth Brooks is a partner and head of management for the conveyancing department at RMNJ Solicitors.

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